Thursday, 23 September 2021

Sisak Earthquake Photo Exhibition: Between Two Waitings by Miroslav Arbutina Arba

September 23, 2021 - The Sisak earthquake photo exhibition titled "Between Two Waitings" by Miroslav Arbutina Arba shows the horror of the 2020 earthquake in Sisak through documentary photos with an artistic touch.

The 6.3 magnitude earthquake on December 29 that severely damaged Petrinja and Sisak has traces which haven't faded as repairs and re-construction are still very much needed, and the Sisak earthquake photo exhibition will surely highlight the stark reality of post-earthquake life.

With Prime Minister Andrej Plenković promising earlier in September to accelerate post-earthquake reconstruction, a return to normal life in Sisak (architecture-wise) is yet to happen.

Meanwhile, as suffering is known to produce art, citizens of Zagreb (who also are not strangers to earthquakes) can closely observe the damage Sisak went through at Zagreb's Museum of Contemporary Art (MSU). In honour of European Heritage Day (September 18), MSU is hosting the Sisak City Museum by presenting the exhibition ''Between Two Waitings'' by famous Sisak photographer Miroslav Arbutina Arba. The exhibition opened on September 20, and it can be viewed until October 10.

The showcased photos which are part of the Sisak earthquake photo exhibition are a product of Arbutina being hired by the Culture Ministry to document the damage caused to cultural heritage for the purpose of evaluating the damage and producing documentation. As TCN reported earlier, the quake damage to cultural heritage in Central Croatia is estimated at €640 million.

''Arbutina gave a significant contribution to reconstruction efforts after the earthquake. His photos are, first and foremost, a witness to what happened, but with a clear artistic context. Photographing for the sake of documenting damage, he also found other motives that a regular observer does not notice. These motives, although they may exist in the documentary context, are nonetheless part of the same mosaic,'' wrote Vlatko Čakširan of the Sisak City Museum, who is also the curator for the exhibition on the MSU website.

''Those who haven't experienced this catastrophe probably think that losing your house is the worst thing, but it isn't. To me, the worse thing was expecting another new earthquake, that time of uncertainty between the two strikes,'' said Arbutina explaining the name of his exhibition.

Arbutina was born in Sisak on January 5, 1959. He took an interest in photography in the '80s when he got a Russian camera, a Lubitel, as a gift. Like many people in Sisak, he worked in a local ironware factory until he decided to try his hand at making a living solely from photography, taking industrial photos for brochures, etc.

During the Homeland War, he started working for various newspapers and other agencies. Enrolled in various projects (such as ''How Fish See Us'' where he took underwater photos of fish and plants in the Kupa river), his work received various rewards, and he moved from digital photography to experiment with the older technics of photography.

Learn more about Croatian Art Galleries in Zagreb, Dalmatia, Istria and Slavonia on our TC page.

For more about art in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Friday, 10 September 2021

Post-Earthquake Reconstruction Efficiency Low, Only 2.3% of Applications Processed

ZAGREB, 10 Sept 2021 - The director of the Reconstruction Fund, Damir Vanđelić, said on Friday that the reconstruction process in five counties affected by earthquakes is inefficient, underscoring that the Ministry of Construction, Physical Planning and State Assets has processed only 2.3% of the applications.

“Of the 12,997 applications submitted by citizens, only 2.3% have been processed and decisions made. They are the only documents with which the ministry instructs the Fund or the Central State Office to conduct a reconstruction," Vanđelić told a press conference.

He believes that "no one can be satisfied with the pace of reconstruction," and that everyone, including those in the system, is to blame.

Reconstruction programme resolved only part of the problems

Vanđelić welcomed the new package of reconstruction measures, noting that he had previously warned of the urgency to adopt it.

He believes that the new package of measures will solve only part of the problem. One of the obstacles to reconstruction lies in the fact that the current law has too many implementing bodies that are not cooperating sufficiently. Amendments to the law should centralise project management and procurement.

He also referred to a shortage of staff in bodies dealing with reconstruction, adding that urgent repairs of chimneys, stairwells and lifts need to be addressed in an organised manner. He believes that the cost of structural reconstruction should be fully covered in earthquake-hit areas.

Amendments to law mentioned only three weeks ago

Vanđelić added that even though experts and the Fund had warned that it was necessary to amend the law, it was only three weeks ago that this issue was even mentioned in the Ministry. 

Fund has received 57 decisions from the Ministry to date

Citing statistics, Vanđelić said that the Fund had received 57 decisions from the Ministry, and 21 of those decisions are related to demolitions while the others refer to allowances paid for temporarily securing damaged buildings.

Four houses have been demolished, 224 public procurement procedures have been implemented, with 98 of them being withdrawn as the prices were too low based on the former reconstruction programme. The Fund has paid out 689 compensation claims for damage caused by the earthquake with a total value of HRK 35,827,981.

In addition, the Fund has received 101 interim decisions and 132 conclusions from the Ministry requesting the Fund to determine the facts related to the administrative process of reconstruction applications.

For more news, CLICK HERE.

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Croatian School Museum: 120th Anniversary Clouded by Earthquake Damage

 September 4, 2021 - The Croatian School Museum, despite marking 120 years of existence, isn't really in a celebratory mood as it remains closed to the public and awaiting earthquake reconstruction.

With this weekend being the final one for the summer break before the 2021/22 school year begins in Croatia, families in Zagreb could've ideally used the weekend to introduce the kids to the importance of education by taking them to the Croatian School Museum. However, with the building still undergoing reconstruction after 2020's earthquakes, it would be wise to wait a bit longer before going to see the collection of items and historical evidence that tell the story about the development of education in Croatia.

What is interesting to note, however, is that with 2021 marking 150 years since the first Croatian teacher congress that shaped the course of the education system in the country, it is also the year that marks 120 years of the Croatian School Museum.

The museum first opened its doors on August 19, 1901, marking the 30th anniversary of the Croatian Education and Literary Assembly (the oldest association of Croatian teachers, which is still active today). The museum is located at Trg Republike Hrvatske 4 (Republic of Croatian Square), near Zagreb's Croatian National Theatre (HNK).

''The basis of the museum material was made up of objects from the teaching exhibition that was held in Zagreb back in 1871 and 1892, and materials were also donated by various teachers, schools, publishers, and education material manufacturers,'' explains the museum's website.

The new and current permanent exhibition was refreshed back in the year 2000 and many visitors have become interested in visiting the museum since then. With occasional exhibitions, we deal with topics from the history of school and education, and we represent the materials from the museum's collection,'' the site adds. Hrvatski_Školski_Muzej_iap.jpg

© Hrvatski Školski Muzej

The museum has gone through two world wars, one regional war and four different political systems. Štefka Batinić, the museum's headmaster, wrote for the Croatian School Museum blog site about the history of the museum and teaching in Croatia using historical sources from these periods. She noted that during that past, which, in Croatia, much like today, saw society divided owing to various ideological conflicts, teachers were also not spared discussions and different views on how society might move forward.

Still, one can assume that despite reading up on these conflicts which were of paramount significance, teachers were still united in putting their students first despite disagreeing with each other on what the best way to provide them with the most quality education and future was.

It is also interesting to note from Batinić's writing how teachers in charge of teaching new generations of pupils were perceived during the times of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, when events and reforms which were the cornerstone of the current Croatian education system started to unfold.

''Croatian teachers (class teachers, working with the youngest among us) were denied the epithet of Croatian intelligence (in the education community, the term was reserved for the academically educated high-school and university professors), but their tendencies and goals were directed towards the finest practice examples of the teachers' community in Austrian and German lands,'' wrote Batinić.

Batinić's blog also cynically wrote in the caption underneath the photo of a damaged chimney on the museum that ''hopefully, it won't collapse before reconstruction begins.''

''We don't feel like celebrating. We'll celebrate when the reconstruction begins. Some important people from the city visited us recently. We're thankful for that,'' concluded Batinić in her blog post.

With faculties and higher educational institutions seeing progress in the reconstruction process following 2020's earthquakes, other educational institutions and, as we can see, museums, still await their turn for reconstruction as the bitter taste in their mouths grows. It isn't surprising, given that in the eyes of many, this government prioritises neither reconstruction nor education in general.

Read about Croatian politics and history since 1990 on our TC guide.

For more about history in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Thursday, 2 September 2021

PM: We Will Do Everything to Accelerate Post-Earthquake Reconstruction

ZAGREB, 2 Sept 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Thursday that the government would do everything to accelerate the process of post-earthquake reconstruction, and recalled that new tenders for about 4,000 houses in Banovina would be advertised already today and tomorrow.

"We will make every effort to speed up that process... and the Ministry of Construction and State Assets will present a comprehensive proposal of measures and possible legal changes which should make the entire reconstruction process more efficient and faster," Plenković said at the beginning of a government session.

As for the beginning of the new school year, the prime minister expressed satisfaction with the increase in the number of vaccinated persons in the school system.

"They set a good example and motive to those that haven't done that yet," he said.

Currently, 57.5% of the teaching staff in primary and secondary schools have been given at least one shot against COVID-19 and in tertiary education, this percentage is higher, 64.5%,  Education Minister Radovan Fuchs said on Wednesday.

For more on politics, follow TCN's dedicated page.

For more about Croatia, CLICK HERE.

Friday, 27 August 2021

Houses Whose Owners Are in Container Settlements to Be Rebuilt by Winter

ZAGREB, 27 Aug 2021 - War Veterans' Affairs Minister Tomo Medved, who heads the task force dealing with the aftermath of last year's earthquakes in Sisak-Moslavina County, said on Friday that priority in the reconstruction process would be given to houses whose owners were now accommodated in prefab containers.

So far, roughly 400 family houses have been rebuilt, next week over 1,500 contracts will be signed with property owners for the reconstruction of their family houses. By 15 September, we will have about 6,000 active contracts on reconstruction, Medved said in Sisak.

He said that priority would be given to the reconstruction of properties whose owners had been relocated to container settlements so that they could move in their rebuilt homes before the winter.

Medved said that the authorities also planned the reconstruction of other damaged structures and construction of a number of apartment buildings in the quake-hit area.

For more on politics, CLICK HERE.

Monday, 23 August 2021

Science Faculty (PMF) Earthquake Reconstruction: Croatian Faculties Receive Aid

August 23, 2021 - The Science Faculty (PMF) Earthquake reconstruction money was received in July by the Croatian government and Education Ministry. The aid was given to other high-education and scientific institutes that suffered from the earthquake too.

With August concluding, the academic community is waking up after a summer break. Students are preparing for exams, and professors are grading those exams as both groups boldly look towards new wins and losses in October and another season of active higher education in Croatia. However, with faculties being low-key in the summer, one might have missed an important action in early July when prime minister Andrej Plenković and education minister Radovan Fuchs came to Zagreb's National and University Library. They delivered 42 contracts of assigning non-returnable financial aids to reconstruct infrastructure of higher education and scientific institutions hit by the earthquake. The total amount is 2,140,837,980 kuna, and Zagreb's University Faculty of Science (PMF) received a total of 160.988.403 kuna for its own reconstruction after the natural disaster first hit Zagreb on March 23, 2020, and later Petrinja on December 29, which was also felt heavily in the Croatian capital.

With the University of Zagreb being founded in the middle of the 17th century, teaching and research of natural sciences and mathematics, which led to today's PMF, can be found almost two years after the university was founded, on April 21, 1876. The faculty, in its current form of working, was established on June 8, 1946. Since then, PMF has worked on its educational and research contributions, whose excellence is recognized domestically and internationally.

„The Faculty designs and conducts relevant university studies and scientific research programs which are an integral part of the higher education process in the fields of biology, physics, geophysics, geography, geology, chemistry, and mathematics," says the PMF website.

Today, PMF has seven departments (Biology, Physics, Geophysics, Geography, Geology, Chemistry, and Mathematics), organized into 28 divisions. It has around 4000 students enrolled in undergraduate, integrated undergraduate and graduate, and graduate university studies within 35 study programs and about 1000 students at seven postgraduate studies and one postgraduate specialist study.

„It is less known that the PMF also comprises the Seismological Service and its seismological stations all over Croatia, the mareographic station in Bakar, the geomagnetic observatory in Lonjsko polje, and the green jewel located in the very heart of Zagreb – the Botanical Garden. And in the background of it all are nearly 500 scientists and teachers for whom you will not only be just another name on a sheet of paper but a truly personal and (hopefully) successful story about your future and ours“, explained PMF.

The earthquakes damaged PMF, particularly the buildings of biology and geography departments. Still, it is admirable that amidst its own trouble, PMF found a way to help students of the Faculty of Metallurgy in Sisak, which also took a heavy hit from the earthquake, by donating five new laptops for educational purposes.

As TCN previously reported, citizens of Zagreb had mixed feelings regarding how the city and the government handled the situation in Zagreb. However, Croatian Parliament MP Sandra Benčić from the Možemo Green-left coalition, while commenting on the victory of his party colleague Tomislav Tomašević on Zagreb elections, stated that the citizens he helped filling out paperwork for damaged homes needed to receive European funds for the reconstruction, for which Zagreb needs to apply by June 2022 to receive the aid.

With these moves by the new administration and the aforementioned aids for the high scientific institutions, the steps to recover Zagreb, the center of science, culture, politics, economy, and more in the Republic of Croatia are underway. But, it will still take time for citizens to recover fully from 2020's tragedies.

The results of education and science curiosity pay off. Learn more about Croatian inventions & discoveries: from Tesla to Rimac on our TC page.

For more about education in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Saturday, 24 July 2021

3.8 Magnitude Earthquake Shakes Petrinja Area

ZAGREB, 24 July, 2021 - An earthquake measuring 3.8 on the Richter scale shook the Petrinja area of central Croatia at 3.43 pm on Saturday, the Croatian Seismological Service said.

The intensity at the epicentre was V degrees on the EMS scale. The tremor was felt in the wider area of Petrinja, Sisak and Glina.

The area was struck by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake on 29 December 2020 and a series of aftershocks, leaving seven people killed and extensive property damage.

For more latest news about Croatia, CLICK HERE.

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

President Zoran Milanović Holds Working Meeting With Croatian Mountain Rescue Reps

ZAGREB, 29 June, 2021 - President Zoran Milanović held a working meeting on Tuesday with members of the HGSS mountain rescue service, with its leaders informing him of the HGSS's structure and the way it provides assistance to people in areas affected by earthquakes and floods.

They also informed Milanović of the preparations for the tourism season, saying that each year, the HGSS has a large number of interventions, the President's Office said in a press release.

HGSS is a voluntary, non-profit, humanitarian, national service, it was said at the meeting. It conducts rescue operations but its mission also includes prevention and education. The service numbers 1,100 members, and they are all volunteers who annually conduct about 1,000 interventions throughout Croatia.

HGSS was founded in 1950 and it marks its day on 15 June, the Feast of St. Bernard, the patron saint of mountain climbers and mountain rescuers.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

 

 

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Friends of Croatia: Japanese Embassy - Friendly Relations between Croatia and Japan

June 17, 2021 -The eighth article in the series, "Friends of Croatia: Japanese Embassy", saw TCN reporter Ivor Kruljac sit down with Japanese Ambassador Misako Kaji and discuss all things regarding diplomatic relations between Japan and Croatia. Overall, Croatia and Japan are friendly countries with many shared values. With Croats and their expertise in improvisation and the excellent crisis response of the Japanese, the two countries can benefit greatly by learning from each other.

Croatia and Japan officially established diplomatic relations on March the 5th, 1993.

I was nervous while the taxi drove me to the Ambassador's residence. Japan is known for punctuality, and I worried whether or not I'd manage to make it on time as my cab was trying to break through Zagreb's midday rush. But in the end, I managed to arrive ahead of schedule. It was great that I wasn't late, but that's still clearly a very far cry from the punctuality of a country where a train conductor apologised when the train left the station 25 seconds ahead of schedule.

As I was rewinding the questions I had prepared in my head, I thought about greeting my interlocutor-to-be. Handshakes are a bit of a risky thing due to the coronavirus pandemic, but even if that annoying virus was somehow erased from existence, in Japanese culture, people would still greet each other by bowing. Do I need to bow, or does the Ambassador need to follow the Croatian culture of handshaking (or perhaps bumping fists in these pandemic-dominated times)?

Cultural Attache, Yutaro Nishida welcomed me to the premises, and at last, introduced me to the Japanese Ambassador Misako Kaji, who welcomed me with a smile, respect, and kindness. The debate on whether to bow or fist-bump was resolved by doing both, with both sides respecting and accepting each-others cultural background. For safety, I kept my mask on while the Ambassador removed hers so that her voice could be more clear as the interview was recorded. I moved my mask only occasionally to drink the amazing traditional green tea that was served during the interview, which was paired well with a warm and friendly atmosphere from the official representative of Japan in Croatia.

Misako Kaji graduated with a BA in the economy at the University of Tokyo, followed by an MA in philosophy, politics, and economy at no less than Oxford University. Inside the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she served in the Japanese Embassies in the UK and Vietnam, but also in Japanese EU and UN missions. As an Ambassador and deputy of the main representative, Kaji also served in Japan's Delegation to international organisations in Geneva. In Japan, she was the deputy spokesperson for the Japanese Prime Minister and was a professor at the Tokyo and Hitotsubashi Universities. Ambassador Kaji also has quite some experience with the United Nations (UN). She was a special advisor of the high committee of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) as well as a member of the UN Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions and a member of the advisory committee of the UN Peacebuilding Fund. She has represented Japan in Croatia since May 2019. Two years and twenty days, as she stated on the day of the interview that occurred last Friday.

Japanese culture is beloved in Croatia

''If you'd asked me a year ago, I would've said the Adriatic sea, the scenery, and the colour blue, all of these wonderful UNESCO heritage sites and nice people ready to help when you're travelling,'' started Ambassador Kaji, explaining what she had found most interesting and impressive in Croatia.

''But, after two years, I have something more to say, and what I like about Croatia is the 'Japan' I encounter in Croatia, and that is a very positive discovery. I didn't realise Japanese culture was so widely embodied in a variety of Croatian minds,'' noted ambassador Kaji.

The most recent instance was last week's handover ceremony of the Foreign Minister's Commendation to the Croatian Origami Society, which took place at the Ambassador's residence. Some of the members have been engaged with this artistic papercraft (taught in Japanese kindergarten) for over 20 years now.

''They are very much interested and dedicated without being imposed or forced to be, and its members included chemistry students, medical doctors, and even an 11-year-old boy. There were so many different categories of profession, and some even folded Origami while on probation, and that is where they'd encountered the art of origami,'' continued the Ambassador, fascinated with such love for one of the essentials of Japanese culture, keeping hold of plenty of works donated by participants of the ceremony.

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The handover ceremony of the Foreign Minister's Commendation to the Croatian Origami Society, June 2021 © Japanese Embassy Croatia

She is also particularly delighted with Biograd na Moru, a Croatian city in the Zadar area that not only commemorates the Atom Bomb falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also has a metal crane bird as a monument to this dreadful tragedy that occurred on August the 6th, 1945.

''There is a legend that cranes live for a thousand years, so they are often used as presents for somebody who has been met with disasters or illness. In Hiroshima, they have a thousand cranes (made in the origami technique) folded and presented for the wish of peace,'' explained the Ambassador. Such a ceremony was also seen in Biograd na Moru, initiated by mayor Ivan Knez with a large metal crane made to outlast paper for generations to come.

The Japanese martial art of Karate is also popular in Croatia with some quite good successes achieved by Croatian athletes. Last month, the European Karate Championships were held in Poreč, where Ambassador Kaji was invited and was again fascinated with the use of the Japanese language and overall traditions despite there not having been a single Japanese athlete present there.

With so much of Japanese culture being present here in Croatia, it's difficult to say what the most beloved aspect of Japanese culture is for the Croats.

Before the pandemic struck, Ambassador Kaji remembered the Japan Day event in Zagreb's popular Mimara Museum, which saw huge attendance and a presentation on Japanese food, sake (Japanese rice schnapps) degustation, Ikebana (flower art), a tea ceremony, bonsai (aesthetical horticultural shaping of small trees), martial arts such as Karate, Judo, Kendo, haiku poetry workshops, calligraphy, Igo chess and much more.

2019 was also a big year for a Japanese promotion with the 2020 Olympic Games, which saw Croatian athletes from the 1964 Olympics attend the promotion for 2020. Additionally, for Japan, as Ambassador Kaji pointed out, the Paralympic Games are an important measure for the general success of the Olympics, which was evident in the ParaBOX installation (where visitors were challenged to find a ball in complete darkness), and the presentation of the Japanese car company Toyota's car which is designed to be able to be driven by people with disabilities.

However, when it comes to younger people, particularly students of Japanology (which Croats can study at either Zagreb or Pula University), one cultural trend emerged.

''The Japanese language is very tricky to learn, so I asked one graduate student how she first encountered Japan and heard the language, and it was anime,'' Ambassador Kaji recalled. She added that the Japanese cartoon art of anime became pretty universal and is no longer limited only to Japan. (The same goes for Japanese comics such as manga, with both of these pieces of pop culture being incredibly diverse in genres and having something for everyone, covering all social groups and even not avoiding vivid graphic images of violence and/or sex).

''At the Foreign Ministry of Japan, we have an award from a world competition because of the promotion of manga, but without trying to focus or push deliberate energy into that promotion,'' stated Ambassador Kaji.

As Japanese pop culture, anime and manga are indeed very popular here in Croatia, which is visible at the Pandakon conference that is held annually at Zagreb's Močvara club. Fans often dress up as their favourite characters, and there are often rewards for the best cosplay.

However, there are also heated debates between fans and people in the manga/anime industry that also affect Croats. On the one hand, representatives of the anime and manga industry are unhappy with cosplay, viewing it as a copyright infringement and believing that fans should be paying for cosplaying these characters. On the other hand, fans say they are just trying to show love and appreciation for their work, and they are also promoting and attract new audiences. It's indeed true that someone might not know what is ''Deadman Wonderland'', but upon seeing a brilliantly crafted cosplay of Shiro, they may ask the cosplayer about the character and then watch anime or read manga.

Ambassador Kaji says the Japanese Government is aware of the problem.

''Earlier in January, the Minister for the "Cool Japan“ Strategy (with Cool Japan being a brand strategy, aiming to disseminate Japan's attractiveness and as a unique culture throughout the world), Shinji Inoue said that he was aware of an opinion among the cosplay community rising, and this could be a real legal problem. It was important to secure an environment in which people can enjoy cosplay at ease, without worrying about possibly breaching laws. So, the Minister declared that he would come up with ways to deal with it but has not yet specified what those ways will be,'' explained the Ambassador. 

Friendly Nations: sharing values, but trade could be better...

The cosplay question is one of the political issues in Japan, but when it comes to politics, what exactly is going on between Croatia and Japan?

''We're friendly countries; we share the same values. Unfortunately, you can't speak your own mind in every country, but Croatia and Japan belong to those countries where you're free to have as many children as you want, free to say what you like, free to travel where you want, free to choose your own vocation. In other words, we're both free countries that share the same values, democracy, human rights, and rule of law,'' said Ambassador Kaji, adding there are occasional disagreements, but that is normal and nothing to worry about.

from_japanese_embassy_foc_1.jpg

The Emperor and Empress of Japan grant an audience to the Speaker of the Croatian Parliament Gordan Jandroković and Mrs Jandroković during their visit to Japan upon the invitation of Speaker Oshima of the Japanese House of Representatives, June 2019 © The Imperial Household Agency

Kaji also pointed out that Croatia is pretty prevalent in Japan thanks to its sporting heroes. ''Everybody knows who Modrić and Čilić are; Croats are disproportionately present in world sport,'' she said.

Ambassador Kaji also rates Croatian EU membership as a great advantage.

''Through the EU, you're very well represented. When Croatia held the European Council Presidency during the first half of 2020, one of the most important parts of Croatian foreign policy concerned the Western Balkans and you advocated the EU's perspective for them as we don't want to roll back into a conflict or the changing of the borders after such a great sacrifice,'' Ambassador Kaji stated, referring to the war back in the '90s.

An important instance of that is the Zagreb Declaration from June the 22nd, 2020.

''We're part of the group that supports the European idea, and through that, the Croatian idea, as we share the same values,'' confirmed the Ambassador.

She added that while it may seem far away, the issues of the Balkans are relevant to such ideas like the Free and Open Indo-Pacific, and advocating the peace and freedom of nagivation, for example, is required on both locations, and Japan sees Croatia as a partner in that regard.  

Ambassador Kaji also regularly contacts the Croatian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (MVEP), the Government, Parliament, the President's office, various cultural institutions, sports institutions such as the Croatian Judo Federation, the Croatian Karate Union, and the Croatian Olympic and Paralympic Committees, educational institutions, local government units and more. She also works on maintaining friendly ties with other ambassadors and diplomats in Croatia.

''My diplomatic colleagues know that only those who are blessed get to be stationed in Croatia,'' revealed Ambassador Kaji, not hiding her happiness for representing Japan in this Southeastern European country.

She is also particularly excited about going to Virovitica this week since she has never been. The visit is to attend the exhibition on Japanese pottery titled ''Yakishime: Earth Metamorphosis'' which is coming to Virovitica after already having been held in Vukovar and Pula.

Commenting on the most frequent contact she keeps in Croatia, she said that it's very hard to say, but statistically, maybe the Japanese Embassy communicates the most with MVEP. ''We're only two minutes away from the Ministry,'' said Ambassador Kaji.

Of course, not everything can be equally balanced and trade is unfortunately currently sitting on pretty low branches of the overall tree.

''When it comes to trade, we made up only 0.28% of Croatia's exports with tuna being a major portion - which is nice. In addition, when it comes to investments in Croatia, only 0.5% of all investments come from Japan. So there's room for improvement there,'' stated Ambassador Kaji with optimism.

Some of the instances of trading and business between the two countries can be seen in the Japan-based company Nipro taking over Piramida, a Croatian pharmaceutical packaging producer from Sesvete near the City of Zagreb last month.

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A visit to Nipro PharmaPackaging Croatia, June 2021 © Japanese Embassy Croatia

Knowledge – the way forward while not forgetting culture or tradition

As mentioned, Japanese culture is widely popular and much loved among Croats, the Japanese love Croatian athletes, and the two countries share friendly relations. Both Croatia and Japan have their traditions and cultural heritage. With ever-present technological development, some people in Croatia do fear that progress will lead to Croats forgetting their traditions, ways, and cultural heritage. On the other hand, Japan has seen huge technological development evident in very fast internet, modern trains, robotics, and more. Yet, their tradition and culture remain well preserved. What's the secret, and how can technological advancement be balanced with keeping a focus on tradition?

As Ambassador Kaji explained, the gist is to ''keep your spirit, but introduce technology''. While the Ambassador believes that the path of economic development makes sense in the long term, it wasn't always so easy. In the past, economic development was accompanied by pollution, and Japanese people, apart from developing health issues, entered an atmosphere that wasn't very kind to their traditional ways. But things have improved since then.

''In the 21st century, people and governments are more focused on green technologies and digital technologies which can be friendly towards and resonate with keeping up with traditions. Like when drinking tea, you have a ceremony, but the leaves for the green tea need to be carefully nourished in a kind environment, so that isn't very compatible with mass production or polluted air. But when, for example, you use the wind to produce energy, that's a nice eco-friendly way that co-exists with traditional culture,'' explained Ambassador Kaji.

She added that this way of co-existing then becomes mutually supportive and crafted to be resilient and long-lasting. That being said, new technologies also need to be carefully crafted to keep an eye on traditions, and improvisation is troubling in that regard.

''If you show respect for tradition, and you use academic knowledge or research, then there must be a way of remaining aligned with tradition and pursuing technology to have them both be mutually supportive,'' concluded Ambassador Kaji, and her belief about Croatia's technological development is that it will not be fatal to Croatian tradition.

Speaking of tradition, traditions form habits that then become accepted in various societies. With the already mentioned Japanese love for punctuality and the general perception of the Japanese as organised people that like order and plans, the perception of Croats can be quite the opposite. Many see Croats as laid back and relaxed, not making a fuss if they are a bit late. However, Ambassador Kaji sees a different picture of the Croats from her experience, particularly when it comes to Croatian women.

''A cleaning lady from Slavonia that comes to clean my office every day just starts working and cleans meticulously. She doesn't leave one small thing out and she is very responsible. In Japan, you don't see so many women gardening, and here, the women that watch over my garden are very powerful and professional, and that is very impressive,'' she noted. The work ethic and responsibility are something she sees with all of the Croats working for her.

''When it comes to Japan, we plan for perfection, so the dark side of that characteristics is, for instance, being late with the vaccination rollout. There are all sorts of verifications that take place there, making sure everyone can get them, and yes, they're proven safe abroad, but we had our own evaluations done, and that was the main reason we've been criticised for being too slow. Here in Croatia, you're really good at improvising. We can learn from each other,'' Ambassador Kaji said, sharing her observations on the habits of Croats and people in Japan.

She added that one such thing where Croatia can learn from Japan is crisis response, particularly when it comes to earthquakes.

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At the Civil Protection Headquarters for Dealing with the Aftermath of the Petrinja earthquake in December 2020, March 2021 © Japanese Embassy Croatia

Post-earthquake reconstruction by Japanese experts: Zagreb's buildings can keep their looks and also become safer

Japan is famous (or as Ambassador Kaji rated with a humorous touch, perhaps notorious) for regularly having earthquakes. Tsunamis happen as well. This was even noticed by reporters from the Croatian paper Jutarnji List, who, when following the earthquakes in Zagreb and Petrinja, interviewed Ambassador Kaji in search of advice on living with earthquakes. An equipped backpack with water, food, batteries, and lights ready for evacuation, along with agreeing on a location at which were to meet with your loved ones, are some great bits of advice for planning once you accept that earthquakes can happen at any time, anywhere.

''You can't stop earthquakes, but if you're prepared, you can mitigate the damage they cause and protect lives. People often think earthquakes happen, and that's that, but earthquakes are never over,'' said the Ambassador when recalling that interview.

''I was at my residence when the Zagreb earthquake happened more than one year ago, and the epicentre was just three kilometres away. It was pretty bad but not serious with only small cracks on the wall,'' recalled Ambassador Kaji, not seeming to feel unsafe in a Japanese earthquake-conscious building, while Croatia isn't always so aware that the Earth's plates can move and cause total chaos.

The earthquake that gave Zagreb such a heavy blow in March 2020 is a normal monthly, if not weekly, occurrence in Japan. The country's ultra-modern buildings and skyscrapers were built to sustain such rumbling, but even the traditional signature Japanese style of architecture (such as the signature Pagoda of Horyuji, the oldest wooden high-rise Japanese building built in 680A.D.) sustained numerous earthquakes over centuries, as Japanese builders always had to try to cope with earthquakes. But, with Zagreb being proud of its architecture, particularly in the downtown area, can the Croatian capital possibly preserve its signature look but also become safer for its residents if such magnitudes or higher strike once again?

''I asked some Japanese experts about whether or not it would be possible to preserve the nice, historic architecture of Zagreb and not just totally transform it into a modern but very common city, and they said it was possible. That needs investment, but there are ways to somewhat reinforce the basic structures and preserve their looks,'' assured Ambassador Kaji. She also added that the speed and focus of reconstruction is something Croatia can learn how to be better at from Japan.

from_japanese_embassy_foc_5.jpg

Towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, December 2019 © Japanese Embassy Croatia 

The Adriatic is nice, but UNESCO heritage really excites Japanese people

With data acquired before coronavirus, Ambassador Kaji stated that there were 150 Japanese nationals living in Croatia, and 150,000 Japanese tourists visited the country. What several people noticed was that while many foreigners come to Croatia primarily to enjoy the coast and swim in the Croatian Adriatic, Japanese tourists can rarely be seen on the beach and prefer sightseeing.

''Japan is surrounded by the sea, so the sea isn't something amazing to them, but Japanese people are very interested in cultural heritage, and when something is recognised by UNESCO, people in Japan really rejoice. So, the Japanese are very much interested in historical or artistic values Croatia offers,'' explained Ambassador Kaji, clarifying why so many Japanese tourists can often be seen as frequently in continental Croatian towns and cities and not just on the coast.

Despite some Croats sometimes being a bit xenophobic or looking differently at people of other races, Ambassador Kaji was surprised when asked about whether there were any racial issues that Japanese people experienced and reported in Croatia.

''I don't know if things were different before regarding racial issues, but the story I heard when I came to Croatia was that back in 2011, many Croats gathered in front of the Embassy of Japan with flowers, candles, and cranes to express their grief and support regarding the Fukushima Tsunami and the earthquake,'' said Ambassador Kaji.

Just like those who came with flowers, the Embassy is equal and open, too. The Embassy issues scholarships for people wanting to study in Japan twice a year, and apart from being open to anyone that wants to travel to Japan and get informed about the country and visa requirements, the Embassy also has a library people are welcome to come to and read through Japanese books and literature.

Apart from being in regular contact with other colleagues based in Croatia, Ambassador Kaji also regularly contacts the Croatian Ambassador in Japan, Drazen Hrastic.

''Before I left Tokyo, we had dinner together, and now we talk often, as well,'' said Ambassador Kaji with a smile.

With Japanese culture being so appreciated in Croatia, and Croatian sporting heroes and UNESCO heritage being so beloved in Japan, spiced with common political values and friendly diplomatic relations, Croatia and Japan truly have the chance to learn from each other and continue to work on the further nurturing of their diplomatic ties, and their shared trade.

If you're a Japanese citizen or a Croatian citizen in need of information, here is how you can reach a Japanese diplomatic mission in Croatia:

In Zagreb:

Japanese Embassy

Adress: Boškovićeva 2

Mail:

Consular Section: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Political Section: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Economic Section: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Section of Culture / Public Relations: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Phone number: +385 1 48 70 650

In Split:

Consulate Office

Adress: Marasovićeva 67

Mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Phone number: +385 21 32 35 80

And of course, you can find all the latest news concerning Japanese-Croatian relations on the official website.

To read more from the series "Friends of Croatia", follow TCN's dedicated page.

For more about Japan - Croatia relations, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Croatian PM Andrej Plenković Satisfied With World Bank Support in Post-Quake Reconstruction

ZAGREB, 15 June, 2021 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on Tuesday expressed satisfaction with the World Bank's support to Croatia's efforts to reconstruct the areas hit by the 2020 quakes, and with cooperation in projects aimed at facilitating the recovery of the private sector's exporters affected by the corona crisis. 

A press release issued by the government notes that the premier held a meeting with World Bank Vice President for Europe and Central Asia, Anna Bjerde, and a few other WB officials in Government House.

On that occasion, Plenković expressed satisfaction with the cooperation with the World Bank and the support that institution had provided to Croatia in the reconstruction since the earthquakes had struck Zagreb and Sisak-Moslavina County in March and December 2020.

He was quoted as saying that he was satisfied with the permanent cooperation in projects aimed at helping exporters in the private sector to recover from the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.

The prime minister in particular thanked the World Bank for its support until now in preparing Croatia's 2021-2026 National Recovery and Resilience Plan. He underscored the importance of fostering further cooperation and the implementation of projects for Zagreb's reconstruction and revitalisation of the Banovina area in Sisak County, the press release said.

In June last year the World Bank approved two $500 million projects to provide urgent support to the government in an attempt to relieve the impact of the tremors that hit Croatia and of the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Bank also provided technical support in preparing a Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment (RDNA 2020), which was an important document to mobilise €683.7 million from the EU Solidarity Fund. The World Bank also provided technical assistance in the RDNA for the earthquake-struck areas in Sisak-Moslavina County.

Bjerde was accompanied at the meeting by World Bank's Country Director for the European Union Gallina Andronova Vincelette, the World Bank's new country manager in Croatia Jehan Arulpragasam, and Special Assistant at World Bank Group Fanny Weiner.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

 

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